Amber Ruffin has made her name in late night, becoming one of the most defining and vital voices of “Late Night with Seth Meyers” since its 2014 debut. But even now, on the eve of launching her very own show, she has no problem acknowledging that cracking jokes behind a desk in a suit was never exactly a priority in her comedy career.
“Late night was never a dream of mine,” says Ruffin, speaking recently to Variety from her new office at 30 Rock. “I watched late night, and I loved late night. But you know, you have to see it to be it, and I didn’t see it. I was like, ‘Okay, I hope these white men are having a great time!’ But I never assumed that that might ever be me.”
Fast forward to 2020, when “The Amber Ruffin Show” is set to premiere September 25 on Peacock. After six years on “Late Night,” hosting the WGA Awards, delivering several of the most memorable stories on “Drunk History” and becoming part of the game-changing writers room for “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” Ruffin is fully stepping into her own spotlight.
In order to make the show a reality, Ruffin enlisted Jenny Hagel to be head writer. On “Late Night,” Ruffin and Hagel co-anchor “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell.” Sitting on either side of Meyers, Ruffin and Hagel tag his joke setups with punchlines that the straight, white, male host himself couldn’t land. Onscreen, “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell” quickly became one of the show’s trustiest go-to segments; behind the scenes, it cemented both Ruffin and Hagel’s friendship and strength as collaborative writing partners. “We are both the type of person who are like, ‘it’s got to get done, so I’ll do it,'” Ruffin explains. “We love the feeling of having done good work, and we’re always chasing that feeling.”
Building out the rest of her room, Ruffin turned to three writers she’s worked with previously whose comedy she’s long admired: Dewayne Perkins (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), Shantira Jackson (“Busy Tonight”) and Demi Adejuyigbe (“The Good Place,” “The Late Late Show with James Corden”). She crossed her fingers that even just one would say yes — and to her surprise and joy, all of them jumped right on board. “These people don’t need me,” she marvels. “They’re such perfect writers.”
From where’s she’s standing, each of these writers speaks to different elements of her own personality, making them ideal fits for a show bearing her name. With Jackson, she can go down rhetorical rabbit holes about everything from current events to debating the existence of unicorns. She and Perkins share a sense of bluntness when it comes to approaching political jokes and expressing that, as Ruffin puts it, “this president is an idiot, and we’re not saying this out loud!” As for Adejuyigbe, Ruffin says with great affection, they’re both absolute “doofuses” who will make themselves look as silly as possible if it means landing a joke.
Thanks to the combination of the show airing on a streaming service and Ruffin feeling no real allegiance to the late night formats of yore, she is promising that “The Amber Ruffin Show” (which she affectionately calls “Ruffin Show” as shorthand) will be something genuinely new. It will air weekly on Friday evenings after being taped Friday mornings; there will be no guests; the comedy will unfold more in sketch form than straight monologues.
“The problem with a lot of late night shows is that they do adhere to this form,” she says, “and then they can only talk about the big important things in these little segments. We will be able to make our segments as big or as small as [they need to be]. We can do eight segments on the same thing!” She pauses, raises an eyebrow at herself, grins wide. “Ooh, that’s not a bad idea. Maybe we’ll do that.”
“The Amber Ruffin Show” premieres Friday, September 25 on Peacock.